pacing the void

By Editoral Staff
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 31, 1997

Too General

The Faculty Senate wants to standarize general education requirments, but the university would better serve students by reexamining the purpose of gen ed classes in the first place.

The Faculty Senate has proposed a new format for general education program as a means of reforming the educational process at the University of Arizona. As it stands, the general education requirements are staggered for each college. Students in the College of Arts and Sciences are required to follow a different format of general education classes than the one required of students in the College of Engineering and Mines, and so on.

The new proposal would create uniform requirements in the form of class "tiers," so that if you change your major from English to nuclear engineering, you would not have to scramble to meet the new General Education Requirements for the College of Engineering.

OK, that's helpful. But the proposal just takes things in the wrong direction. The essential question still remains: Are gen ed classes useful?

The purpose of general education classes, as the UA course catalog describes it, - "to prepare students to respond more fully and effectively to an increasingly complex world" - is inherently defeated by the manner in which they are structured.

How many of us actually pay any sort of attention to our general education classes, anyway? Enforced learning, especially along structured lines, has only a minimal impact on anyone's consciousness. Anyone with serious doubts about that statement need only recall some of those dreadfully dull topics covered each year in high school classes and consider the impact of those topics on his daily life.

Ask anyone you know who took, for example, Middle Eastern humanities, NES 140, to fulfill a gen ed requirement what he learned in that class and how it affects not only his future life but his day-to-day existence. Unless that person is in a field that examines the Middle East, or unless he just happens to be a cultural history buff, you'll probably come away with a negative impression of the general education program and its significance in our lives.

A better answer might be the abolition of a structured general education system, supplanted by a specified number of out-of-major classes. Sure, not all students will fulfill the old "Individuals, Societies and Institutions" tier of the format, but those who actually care will, and they're the ones on whom we should be spending our resources for those classes anyway.

Let's move away from the era of high school-mentality learning that gen ed thinking represents. No one is denying the value of knowledge outside of the field in which one studies; just let students choose for themselves which courses to take.